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Platform

PlayStation 3

 

Genre

Action / Adventure

 

Publisher

SCEA

 

Developer

Naughty Dog

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

October 2009

 

 

- Spectacular visuals

- Breathtaking action

- Full featured gameplay

 

 

-Game ends before you want it to

- Some jumps are too vague

-later encounters can result in quick, frustrating deaths

 

 

Review: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)

Review: Tomb Raider Anniversary (360)

Review: Rainbow Six Vegas (PS3)

Review: Gears of War (360)

 

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Score: 10 / 10

 

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Ever since the Playstation 3’s launch, Sony has tried time and again to find a “killer app”  for its system, a game both marketable and profitable to convince people to bank on their console as the lead choice this generation; Killzone 2 brought incredibly detailed graphics to the FPS genre, but didn’t make a lasting impression beyond the big budget visuals to pry players away from Halo; Metal Gear Solid 4 served as proper closure for fans of the stealth action series, but wasn’t enough to lure in long-time skeptics to check out the finale; LittleBigPlanet reached critical acclaim for its charming characters and innovative user-based content, but the heavily marketed do-it-yourself game hasn’t reached beyond cult status.

 

Then there was Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, an original series by Naughty Dog that gave early adopters the first real look at what Sony’s system could do. The game featured tight controls, smart writing, and colorful visuals that were said to only utilize 30% of the PS3’s horsepower. It left a satisfying experience that also had people wondering what a maxed out PS3 game was capable of.

 

It seems like perfect timing, then, that Uncharted 2 has arrived in the wake of a slimmer, cheaper PS3, almost serving as the next runner-up to compete for Sony’s mascot spot. With the promise of using 100% of the PS3’s power as well as claiming to deliver the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie (despite releasing in the Fall), would Drake’s second adventure be journey that players around the world must be obliged to partake in?

 

In a word: Yes. In two words: Hell Yes.

 

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Uncharted 2 features returning character Nathan Drake, who ends his brief vacation when prospected by two acquainting thieves to help decode the clues left by Marco Polo that opens the way to Shambala, a mythical city said to house a magical stone that will bestow power and immortality to whoever possesses it. One obvious betrayal later and Drake must call on 

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the assistance of old friends and new (loyally questionable) friends, as he travels around the globe to stop a violent dictator and his army from finding the stone first.

 

The story of Uncharted 2 draws heavy inspiration from classic adventure movies such as Indiana Jones (which, incidentally, drew inspiration from even older movies in the first place), featuring all the usual clichés such as double crosses (which go on to triple crosses and even an occasional quadruple cross), rooftop shootouts, runaway trains, snow-covered villages, and otherworldly enemies possessed by the very power everyone wants to seek out. What keeps the story from drowning under its clichés, however, is the strong writing and characters; from returning characters such as the cigar chewing, multi-philanderer Sullivan and the spunky, resourceful journalist Elena, to new additions such as the sexually alluring thief Chloe and the British snob Flynn or the psychotic antagonist Lazarević, every character, no matter how brief their appearance or how vague their motivations, leave a lasting impression thanks to their unique personalities and memorable dialog. Main hero Drake steals the show, as he did in the previous game, by keeping an iron will and witty one-liners no matter how hopeless or intense the situation gets (or how much physical punishment he endures throughout the game, and he really gets put through the ringer). This is thanks in part to the masterful art direction, naturally sounding voice-work and intricate animation, which creates some of the most believable “actors” ever seen in a videogame.

 

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Speaking of the visuals, in a generation where console graphics continue to inspire with powerful engines and high resolutions, Uncharted 2 stands high and above the pack with a visual style that can only be classified as “astounding”. Making good on their promise of maximizing the PS3’s cell processor, Naughty Dog took their already robust engine from the first game and completely overloaded it with sharper textures, oodles of lighting effects, countless amounts of character animations, and the Havok physics engine to destroy it all before your eyes. One need only observe one of the numerous set pieces and observe the delicate details populating the screen. From pouring rain that clings to Drake’s clothing, or falling snow that rests on his hair and shoes, or the many, many destructible objects and environments shredded by gunfire and grenades, including an entire building that literally crumbles at your feet. It may be presumptuous to label the graphics as “flawless”, but thanks to ND’s mastery of the PS3 hardware followed by the fantastic art direction along with seamless transitions between areas with no loading screens (not counting the initial loading upon starting or resuming a game), it can be said with absolute confidence that this is the best looking console game released thus far.

 

Of course, like a big budget CG movie, splendid visuals can’t mask a title’s lack of substance, so how does it actually play? The gameplay is largely unchanged from the first Uncharted, featuring a third-person perspective that wears three primary hats: shooting, covering, and climbing. When wielding one of a handful of weapons, the camera takes an over-the-shoulder perspective. When enemy fire becomes overwhelming (and it will), players can take cover behind virtually any structure, from behind walls or under tables and columns. When a clear goal seems too far away, it’s up to Drake to use his superhuman climbing abilities to scale mountains, swing across unstable ledges and jump across bottomless chasms.

 

The single newest feature of the gameplay is stealth; catching enemies unaware result in a quick kill, usually from a quick neck snap from behind, but can also extend the stealth kills to pushing them off ledges, grabbing their feet while hanging off a ledge (and then taking a moment to watch them bounce around the pavement before hitting the bottom), or slam their heads into a nearby wall while hiding behind cover. It’s a purely optional gameplay mechanic, for those with twitchy fingers preferring to go guns blazing, but it’s not only easy to pull off, but ultimately rewarding (stealth-killed enemies tend to drop extra ammo and grenades), and at times essential to surviving.

 

Don’t expect to go complete Rambo on Uncharted 2’s newest enemies; unlike the shirtless (but surprisingly bullet absorbent) pirates in the previous game, you’re dealing with a literal army of heavily armed and heavily armored mercenaries that look like they stepped out of Metal Gear Solid. Each soldier wears a certain amount of protection, with the more fortified opponents possessing the deadliest weapons, as well as taking far more hits to knock off their armor and pull off a hopeful headshot. The deadliest enemies wield quick-killing weapons such as shotguns, sniper rifles, and miniguns, and have no qualms about surrounding Drake should he idle too long under one spot. The good news is that dispatching the baddies yield their weapons, which can effortlessly take down the lesser enemies (while explosive items such as grenades, RPGs, and a convenient number of propane tanks littered abound can cause a chain reaction of explosions), but their sheer numbers and tenacious attitude can overwhelm unfocused players.

 

This, of course, leads to some of the most thrilling and tense shootouts found in any game. In a manner of minutes you’ll come across hordes of soldiers, snipers on rooftops, shotgun-wielding mercs, a missile-spewing helicopter, and sometimes everything at once. The ever-changing set pieces only add to the rush, from jumping across crumbling ledges while dodging enemy fire, skimming the rooftops of a moving train (while taking care to avoid incoming signposts and rails), among many, many more thrilling moments that would be a crime to spoil in this review. Needless to say, there isn’t a single boring moment in this game.

 

The heavy action may put off puzzle fans, however, as there are fewer instances of arranging blocks or manipulating statues in order to open the hidden doorway. Considering the monotony of such puzzles, a smaller amount of such events is more positive than bad. The real puzzles revolve around what to climb and where to jump in order to advance. Drake’s outstretched arm when getting ready to jump serves as a helpful visual cue, but due to the heavy detail of the environments, there are some ledges that look like they can be interacted with, but ultimately result in a missed jump leading to a quick death. For the truly stumped players, a help button usually points out where you’re supposed to go next.

 

With collectable treasures, unlockable bonus features and purchasable character skins and weapons, the singleplayer campaign would be more than sufficient in creating an incredible sequel, but Naughty Dog went the extra mile and included a bevy of online multiplayer modes. You have your standard modes such as Deathmatch and Elimination (no respawns), but the real fun lies in objective missions. Featuring such modes such as Plunder (where two teams fight to claim a hidden treasure and bring it back to their treasure), Chain Reaction (where the two sides must capture and hold as many flag-marked areas as possible) and Gold Rush (players must find and hold onto a treasure while fighting off hordes of AI enemies), the tight climbing and cover controls lead to an endless amount of online gameplay that’s not only fun, but is also incredibly smooth with virtually no hints of lag.

 

The real draw to multiplayer, however, is Co-Op; featuring three missions inspired by the campaign, a team of three players must work together to fend off AI enemies while helping each other scale the heights to proceed closer to the goal. Featuring exclusive dialog and events, the co-op missions feel like extra side-stories that are an absolute blast to play with friends. You better hope your buddies are capable sharpshooters, however, as these extra missions feature the most punishing difficulty, with waves of enemies pouring in and opening fire without a moment’s reprieve. Fellow partners who are critically injured can be revived by a rapid button press, but should all three teammates fail, you’ll all respawn at the nearest checkpoint. You only get three tries, however, and with no additional lives rewarded, it takes a dedicated and skilled team to reach the end of each mission. Doing so rewards players with xp and money, which allows access to extra bonuses such as Boosters, slots that can be equipped to give players an extra edge in multiplayer (such as carrying extra ammo, or improving their accuracy with certain weapons).

 

What more can be said? This game is spectacular, featuring hours of fun and the visual splendor of a Michael Bay movie (only without the horrendous dialog, cheesy slow motion, or racially insensitive humor). It’s not a truly perfect game, but the exceptional combination of frantic action and exquisite art directions make it close enough. This isn’t just the best game released this year, or even the best Playstation 3 game yet, it’s one of the best games released during this generation of consoles. Stop reading this and go buy it: adventure awaits.

 

Jorge Fernandez
November 2, 2009

 

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